Last week, in his first press conference since the "surge" began, Gen. Petraeus warned that (1) it’s still too early to tell whether the military surge is working, and (2) regardless how successful the U.S. military may be, the military’s role will always be limited in what it can achieve – i.e. there has to be more progress in the Iraqi economic and political arenas and at best, current U.S. military forces can only buy Iraq more time, they are not the solution.
EPIC has heard from returning soldiers over and over again that the ongoing failure to create jobs is a major contributing factor to violence, including attacks against U.S. forces. According to a recent classified study conducted by the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Warfare Analysis Center, improving the quality of life of Iraqi citizens reduces the level of violence in Baghdad. Citing military sources, the New York Times reports: “…the study found that a 2% increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30% decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17% decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence.”
Although an economic surge may require a modest increase in U.S. spending this year and the next, it will save the U.S. billions of dollars over the longer term by effectively reducing conflict which will in turn reduce Iraq’s dependence on U.S. combat forces. For an estimated $100 million, we can support the reactivation of most of Iraq’s 193 state-owned factories and put more than 150,000 Iraqis back to work. Imagine what that can do for the quality of life in communities that largely depend on those factories for their livelihood, and how that in turn can reduce conflict and save American lives. Tackling soaring unemployment and stimulating local economies can do far more to stem violence than military operations and at a fraction of the cost.
This past weekend, President Bush sent a letter redirecting $3.2 billion in funds in support of U.S. troops in Iraq. While a considerable portion of these funds are for the military, Bush did include $100 million for restarting state-owned factories that will employ Iraqis. This is a huge step. Once a factory is back up and running, creating jobs and benefiting the community, the need for continued U.S. military involvement and protection diminishes. Why? Because it shifts the community against anyone who might bomb the factory or otherwise take away the jobs and income that their community needs. In short, the community becomes less likely to cooperate with illegal armed groups and more likely to cooperate with local authorities working to secure the area. And community members who directly benefit from the factory’s reopening are more likely to even take things a step further by voluntarily participating in the protection of the factory and community.